The Wounded Falcon by JP Barnett

5/10 The Wounded Falcon is, in my opinion over-complicated.

Back in January 2011 I reviewed JP Barnett’s Invitation for a Feast, his first ever gamebook, published in late 2007 and part of the Woodland Forest Chronicles. Barnett has since published a new series, Choices, and here we review the first book, The Wounded Falcon.

While out on a hunting expedition with your trained falcon, an unexpected event occurs that threatens her life. Alone, you are the only person who can rescue her. Can you succeed before it is too late?

One die, a pencil and an eraser are all you need to embark on this adventure. All the decisions that need to be made throughout the story are your to make.

Each Choices story has only one successful ending, but three separate routes to it. A novel addition to the gamebook methodology is the incorporation of Time Units which make the speed with which tasks are completed vitally important.

And so, armed with the aforementioned die, pencil and eraser, I began my adventure. After selecting the quarterstaff and the flint and tinder from the equipment list I set out on upon a day of hunting. Not wanting to encounter trouble so early in my adventure I ignore a disturbance in a ruined cottage - time is of the essence and so I quickly find myself at the lake… where my falcon is attacked and wounded by an eagle and my attempts to rescue her are scuppered by a poisonous water snake that brings about my early demise…

All in all, about 5 minutes to get myself killed. Pretty poor, even by my own admittedly poor standards.

So I decided to try again… thinking that I might even take a look in at that deserted cottage this time, just in case there is an antidote or a snake-charming kit that might come in useful later. So I entered the cottage and died… again… even quicker than I had first time around.

So how did I find it?

The Time attribute was a good addition - you must keep track of time during your adventure and success depends on how much time you take - the more time that elapses, the more likely you will fail.

This gamebook is aimed at children and I fully understand the reasoning why things have been simplified but I found the omission of battles involving skill and stamina to be a real loss – this was the element that I always enjoyed most in a gamebook.

But the biggest obstacle that I encountered was in just trying to understand how the book was to be played. Seeing as The Wounded Falcon is aimed at a younger audience I thought that it was far too complicated. Even an adult experienced in playing gamebooks might struggle to get to grips with it, let alone a child of 10 or so.

It was the Hidden choices in particular that I found confusing. To use an item you need to take note of its "to use" score (Torch +10 to use) for example, and then, when you feel the moment is right (if you are in a dark cave perhaps) you can go 10 pages further into the book and see if your attempt was successful. So far so good, but then it is time to see if your use if the item was successful... I have copy and pasted the instructions in below:

  • Before turning to a new page to find a potential hidden choice, you must first read the entire page you are currently reading and follow any instructions that do not involve turning to a different page (for example, updating your Time score);
  • If the new page you turn to continues the story from the previous page and makes use of your item, you will be told immediately by the text stating that you have used an item of equipment, as stated above;
  • If the new page you turn to does NOT logically continue the story, you immediately incur a penalty of 1 Time Unit, which must be added to your Time score;
  • If the new page you turn to does NOT make sense, you must turn back to the page you were previously reading.  At this point you are still free to attempt to use another item of equipment to search for another hidden choice, if you wish;
  • Some items of equipment will ask you to deduct numbers from the page you are currently reading, rather than add numbers;
  • Items cannot be used in combination. Only one item can be used at any given time.

Although this makes more sense to me now then it did when I first read it I am afraid that this is simply too complicated and although it may be a good idea in theory it is more suited to older readers.

So I am afraid that the move away from the classic, old-school gamebook did not really work for me, for the reasons outlined above. I thought that Barnett's Invitation to a Feast was more fun a most definitely the type of gamebook that would appeal to children. The Wounded Falcon is, in my opinion over-complicated and I can't help think that keeping it simple would have been the better option.

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